Indie Book Review — Awaken Online: Catharsis


Author: Travis Bagwell
Published: July 23, 2016
Print Length: 526 Pages

Description (from the author):

Are you tired of video games and books where you always hear the hero’s tale? Perhaps it’s time to get in touch with your evil side!

Jason logs into Awaken Online fed-up with reality. He’s in desperate need of an escape, and this game is his ticket to finally feeling the type of power and freedom that are so sorely lacking in his real life.

Awaken Online is a brand new virtual reality game that just hit the market, promising an unprecedented level of immersion. Yet Jason quickly finds himself pushed down a path he didn’t expect. In this game, he isn’t the hero. There are no damsels to save. There are no bad guys to vanquish.

In fact, he might just be the villain.


I’m always looking for I enjoy and can recommend to my son (he’s 14). One of the biggest complements I can ever pay a book is to say that my son devoured it. He is generally a picky reader. Both of us loved this one.

Ready Player One is currently the poster child for books set inside video games, but I think it relies more on 80s appeal than the genre. However, if you are a fan of the litRPG genre—I personally enjoyed the Sword Art Online anime and Marie Lu’s Warcross—this book should appeal to you.

As an author, I’m always trying to dissect why a story is compelling. Bagwell does a few things here that I found especially interesting. For one, he uses the quest structure of the MMORPG to create subplot structures that keep things moving forward. By adding in a rogue AI who is an amateur psychologist and making the protagonist a likable necromancer fighting for undead supremacy, Bagwell creates something very interesting. Both the protagonist and antagonist have interesting character arcs (though the antagonist’s only really gets going in the second book) and the book does an excellent job playing with—and upending—themes of light and darkness.

What really impressed me as an author was how Awaken Online: Catharsis managed to make a low stakes plot interesting. One of the inherent problems of video game worlds is that there is little personal danger, and so other external stakes must be introduced. In Ready Player One, the stakes are monetary, global, and made very personal by adding real world danger. In Sword Art Online, death in the game means your game gear fries your brain. Awaken Online: Catharsis doesn’t resort to these kinds of devices. The game is just a game. Our protagonist could walk away and life would go on as it always had, and the world would not suffer for it. Yet Bagwell manages to create an emotional climate within the protagonist, a psychological need, that makes the game personal enough to carry the story. That, and he provides the type of out of the box thinking we wish we could implement in modern games.

Overall, Awaken Online: Catharsis does exactly what I’m looking for in a book like this. He takes a familiar genre, populates it with great characters, and gives it enough of his own spin make it fresh. I highly recommend it.

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